WASHINGTON, D.C. – Now that Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the FDA, three different shots are currently available in the U.S. And although they have different efficacy rates, experts say Americans should take any vaccine that’s available to them.
The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for J&J’s single-shot vaccine on Saturday, allowing it to be distributed in the U.S. for those 18 and older. This comes after the agency issued EUAs for Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines in December.
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC News and CNN that all three vaccines are highly efficacious, and one shouldn’t be seen as “weaker” than another.
“It’s not the weaker vaccine. They’re all three really good vaccines and the distributions are going to be equitably the same way as we distributed the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna,” said the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We’ve got to get away from that concept that one the weaker and one’s not.”
Fauci said on State of the Union that people shouldn’t wait for a certain company’s vaccine to become available to them.
"These are three highly efficacious vaccines,” said Fauci. “I can tell you I have been fully vaccinated with one that was available. It was the Moderna. If I were not vaccinated now and I had a choice of getting a J&J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me."
When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved by the FDA in December, they showed to be 95% and 94% effective in preventing COVID-19 among clinical trial participants, respectively.
For the J&J vaccine, the FDA says it’s 85% effective in preventing severe/critical COVID-19 at least 28 days after vaccination. Trials also have shown the J&J vaccine to be 100% effective at preventing death, since no one who got the vaccine died from COVID-19.
“You have three highly efficacious vaccines, for sure, there’s no doubt about that. And particularly the recent results from J&J, if you look at the efficacy against severe disease, greater than 85%, and there have been no hospitalizations or deaths in multiple countries, even in countries with the variants,” Fauci told Meet the Press.
The J&J vaccine may have a lower efficacy rate, but Fauci says the U.S. shouldn’t compare them “head-to-head.”
“So, be careful when you try to parc these, this percent versus that, the only way you know one versus the other is if you compare them head-to-head, and they were not compared head-to-head. They were compared under different circumstances,” said Fauci. “All three of them are really quite good and people should take the one that’s most available to them.”
Coronavirus variants may also come in to play with the efficacy of the vaccines. The J&J vaccine trials were held while several mutations of the coronavirus were spreading.
Notably, their vaccine was tested in South Africa, where the dominant strain was a variant believed to be more contagious and potentially more serious. In South Africa, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a 64% efficacy rate.
Neither Pfizer nor Moderna's vaccine was tested in that environment with that variant. Some studies are underway to see how protective those two vaccines are against the South Africa variants and others.